The Rue du Copeland, seven in the morning. A succession of furious, choking yells from the street. Madame Oraanj, who kept the little hotel opposite mine, had come out on the third floor. Her bare feet were stuck into baffies and her blue rinsed hair was streaming down.
There were eccentric characters in the hotel.
The slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people – people who have fallen into solitary, half-made graves of life given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.
There was Monsieur Rayon du Luna, a striking Scotsman, who whilst dressed in a navy pin-striped suit would sometimes hold court in the bistro below.
Madame O insisted that he had not removed the vile garments in years. He had no legs and transported himself about on a modified tea-tray with wheels obtained from a settee it would appear. I understand his wheelchair had been sold some months earlier to pay an outstanding bill at the club to which he was no longer a Member.
It was a great disappointment, when I had come to Rayon for help, to find him even worse off than myself. ‘Good heavens, what are you worrying about? Never worry, mon ami. Nothing is easier to get than money.
In spite of all this Monsueir R managed to keep a fairly smart appearance with his pin-striped suit. He shaved without soap and with a razor-blade two months old, tied his tie so that the holes did not show, and carefully stuffed the soles of his shoes with newspaper. You would never have thought he had recently been sleeping under the Seine bridges.
Or there was Monsieur Blanco. A resident of the hotel, we would sometimes go to the rue du Broomloan together. He would stand there sometimes for hours staring at the buildings. I understand he used to keep company with Rayon but they fell out some time ago over the some trivial matter.
‘Ah, mais, mon ami, the ups and downs of life! The Administration – every penny gone. I have tipped waiters and I have been tipped by waiters.
‘Ah, but I have known what it is to live like a gentleman, mon ami… Ah well, ca reviendra. Victory is to him who fights the longest! Etc etc.’
Or there were the Hurlocks, for instance, an old, ragged, dwarfish couple who plied an extraordinary trade. They used to sell souvenirs of the Chateaux du Ibrox on the Boulevard St Edmiston.
The curious thing was that the souvenirs were sold in sealed packets as photographs of the old chateaux but were actually photographs of a pornographic nature. The buyers did not discover this until too late, and of course never complained.
It would be fun to write some of their biographies if one had time. I am trying to describe the people in our quarter, not for the mere curiosity, but because they are all part of the story.
Poverty is what I am writing about, and I had my first contact with poverty in this slum.”
ERIC BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
(To be continued…)